EDITOR'S NOTE: The signs for various schools are in yards around the city; the advertisements are on TV and the radio, encouraging listeners to enroll in one school or another. Choice has become a buzzword across the state when talking about education.
Whichever side of the choice debate you're on, the evidence of Indiana's and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett's push for more choices is evident in the various options parents now have for their child's education.
As students head back to school, this week's stories feature different families and the education choices they make, their reasons and why their schools are right for them.
On Aug. 7 students returned to Imagine Schools on Broadway after a six-week summer break, because the school follows a balanced, or year-round, school calendar. This year marks the school's fifth, and its second year as the city's only year-round school.
Principal Ra'Chelle Spearman said when contemplating the shift, the school surveyed parents, teachers and staff about the calendar switch. She said the overwhelming response was positive for the year-round calendar, and children of parents who weren't initially in favor ended up returning to the school in the fall.
She said the school serves mostly low-income and minority students, who often feel the affects of learning loss over the summer break more than other student populations. The balanced calendar benefits these students because there are few long gaps of time spent out of school. As part of its calendar, the school also offers tutoring and remediation for students who are behind during fall, winter, spring and summer breaks.
“As a school we're finding what works for us,” Spearman said.
According to ISTEP+ standardized test scores, the school is still struggling with less than 50 percent of students passing the test, but Spearman believes the year-round calendar will begin to pay off for the school. She also pointed out that the school grew its passing percentage from the year before.
“If we weren't a good choice, parents wouldn't choose to bring their students here,” she said.
Imagine on Broadway serves students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Nevaeh Mallory, kindergartener
Sarah Mallory-Rowe didn't know much about Study Elementary School, the school her daughter Nevaeh was assigned to in Fort Wayne Community Schools, so when she and her family moved just down the street from Imagine Schools on Broadway, she decided to send her daughter there.
“We love it,” Mallory-Rowe said of the year-round charter school.
She said she had many friends who also sent their children to Imagine and had nothing but good things to say about the school.
She also likes that her daughter can walk to school and plans to send her son Tyler to Imagine when he starts kindergarten next year.
Keegan Oberley, kindergartener
Previous school: attended Harrison Hill Elementary for pre-K
The year-round schooling option was a major factor in Tamera and Nathan Oberley's decision to send their son Keegan to Imagine Schools on Broadway for kindergarten.
“With a long summer break, my kids are so young, they forget what they learn,” she said. “(With year-round school) they'll have a bigger advantage.”
The Oberleys plan to send their younger son to kindergarten at Imagine next year.
Tamera Oberley said Keegan attended Harrison Hill Elementary School for pre-K, but were dissatisfied with the level of communication with staff members. Nathan Oberley also thought the school was too large for his son and liked the smaller class sizes at Imagine and did not prefer that, Keegan be placed in some special-education classes for speech therapy, as he was at Harrison Hill.
Nathan Oberley said at Imagine, Keegan receives some special attention for speech, but stays mostly in general education classes, where Nathan Oberley said Keegan belongs to learn from and with his peers.
Tamera Oberley said the staff in the office at Imagine were helpful on the first day of school, answering any and all her questions.
“It's a night-and-day difference between Imagine and Fort Wayne Community,” she said.
Both parents believe their son is happier at Imagine.
Maria, grade 5; Consuelo, grade 3; and Jose Solis, grade 2
After moving to Fort Wayne from Chicago, Maria Valtierra chose to send all three of her children to Imagine Schools on Broadway.
She said, with translation help from her daughter Maria, she believed that Imagine is not like other schools and her children receive a better education there.
Valtierra also said it's beneficial for her children to go to school year-round.
Maria said the teachers at Imagine are very nice and that she gets good grades in school.
The school also does a good job of keeping parents informed of activities and other happenings at the school, Valtierra said.